Nicholas Daley on Mulberry, Music and Redefining Modern Craftsmanship

by Hetty Mahlich on 13 January 2022

The London-based fashion designer's unique capsule celebrating 50 years of Mulberry carves out a new chapter in British design.

The London-based fashion designer's unique capsule celebrating 50 years of Mulberry carves out a new chapter in British design.

To mark 50 years of British excellence and era-defining Alexa (Chung) bags, the leather goods brand Mulberry chose to hand over the reins to three of London's most exciting fashion designers, tasking them with a mission to explore sustainable craftsmanship. Richard Malone and Priya Ahluwalia put their spin on the iconic Bayswater and Portobello Tote bags - kudos to Mulberry who let these burgeoning talents fully transform the brand's enduring arm candy through their own aesthetic worlds. Nicholas Daley, the latest chapter in Mulberry Editions, is no exception. Following the mantras he used to round up his brand at the LVMH Prize in 2020, (for which he was a joint winner); community, culture and craftsmanship, Daley's take on the unisex Antony satchel bag and accompanying music-inspired capsule tells a new story for Mulberry.

Since graduating from Central Saint Martins in 2013 and officially launching his label two years later, Daley has built season upon season upon these three tent poles - but his work goes deeper than the surface level mood board references and empty promises on sustainable supply chains which define much of the fashion industry today. Made by UK and Japanese manufacturers, Daley is known amongst his peers for a meticulous attention to detail when it comes to craft - there's our first C. He has an infectious childlike excitement when it comes to fabric mills, treating this craft with equal respect to that of the musicians he invites to perform at his shows. As Daley previously told SHOWstudio, '...the vibe is the most important thing'. The community - there's our second C - he creates feeds seamlessly into the design process, drawing on his Scottish-Jamaican heritage with utilitarian-inspired silhouettes which arm the wearer with an attitude harking back to the swagger of his father's Sunday best. Patchworks of past and present, his shows and fashion films have introduced viewers to subjects such as Afrofuturism and musicians like Sons of Kemet.

The brilliant thing about the Mulberry Editions project is how it carves out new perspectives on what British design means today, and Daley's capsule includes a first for Mulberry with guitar and saxophone straps and artisanal techniques including whipstitch taken from North Africa and the Caribbean. Inspired by icons of jazz, reggae and rock 'n' roll past, the limited-edition collection is crafted from leather and suede in navy blues and mustard yellows. With one eye on Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Daley was also thinking about kitting out some of his favourite musicians today. What would Lianne La Havas need on a tour to Benicàssim or Coachella? Well, there's a plectrum case for on the go, leather and suede and bucket hats to shade from the sun, and when I speak to Daley I'm thrilled to hear that the designer agrees one's bag can never have too many pockets.

Unveiled in a joyful campaign set in the Clapton Round Chapel shot by Samuel Bradley and styled by Stephen Mann, Sons of Kemet frontman Shabaka Hutchings performs with Lianne La Havas and Tomorrow's Warriors (a London-based charity which nurtures young jazz talent). Below, Daley talks through why he still sees himself as a student of fashion, and how he's using British craft as a vehicle for creating a story you'll find well worth listening to.

The collection launches in store and on on 13 January.

It's forging links between past and present, celebrating culture and community, whilst ultimately looking to the future - Nicholas Daley
Nicholas Daley x Mulberry, Lianne La Havas, photograph Samuel Bradley

Hetty Mahlich: It's been a difficult couple of years, how are you and the brand doing? Did you manage to get a break without the usual January London menswear shows stealing your Christmas?

Nicholas Daley: It's probably the first Christmas I've spent more time at home. That was a moment, my mum and dad were happy about that. We’re still growing our business with new accounts in new territories. The virtual showrooms and moving to digital was interesting; we did animations for the first time with some of our collaborators, finding more ways to show the brand and what we're about. I think for a lot of designers and creatives, through difficulty you can find new ways of exploring creative mediums.

HM: Why did it feel like this project with Mulberry was the right collaboration for the Nicholas Daley brand?

ND: The craftsmanship element was really interesting, it's something which I'm always exploring within my work and collaborations [Daley has previously teamed up with Fred Perry, Lavenham, adidas and Tricker's]. I work a lot with British manufacturing and supporting local, whether it's tartans from Scotland, shoes from Northampton, or linens from Ireland. In terms of leather goods, Mulberry are up there with the best of them. There's something nice about looking at older techniques which have been used for hundreds of years and how they can be reinterpreted, how I can add my flavour on top of that.

Nicholas Daley x Mulberry, Shabaka Hutchings, photograph Samuel Bradley

HM: That must have been really exciting for you, working with Mulberry and exploring new connections when it comes to manufacturing and craftsmanship?

ND: Yeah, definitely. A key part of the collaboration was trying out new elements and pushing Mulberry's manufacturing capabilities. Some of the styles which we put together, like the guitar and saxophone straps, are very specific leather goods and were new territory for the Mulberry team. That was quite fun, because we were working on something which was unique and special. Then to see them being performed by all these incredible artists [in the campaign], it just makes the whole process feel so much more enriching.

Within some of the bags, we're using more eco-friendly cottons in the construction, and of course Mulberry use really high-grade leathers and suedes. What fascinates me with leather is the longevity of it. It ages, and I'm sure we will all have one of our mum or dad's leather jackets or bags which just gets passed on through the generations. Ideas of longevity and lineage through the Mulberry bag as a product was important.

HM: Why did you choose the Antony bag?

ND: When you're making these leather bags or goods, you want to make sure that design wise we've thought about all the details: the type of lining, the construction, the stitching, the fastenings. How can we look to add our DNA but still keep that functionality? From the start, we were looking at the archive, and then the Mulberry team put forward a few bags. The Antony is the most fluid between male and female customers - that's what I want to try and do more of. Throughout the industry I'm predominantly squared in the menswear box, but I do think my knitwear and a lot of the stuff that I do is quite fluid.

HM: Your work has so many rich references in it, do you see yourself as a storyteller?

ND: I’m a student of fashion and I want to learn about materials and construction, and how people work, clothes and the relationships and all of that. But yeah, definitely for me I think the narrative and the storytelling is even more important and more poignant in the world we live in today. Both from a commercial side, like strategising, it's very competitive, but also from a cultural standpoint in terms of what are we adding to the conversation? What is Nicholas Daley doing? What is my purpose? What can I do to push and highlight and celebrate all these things which I care about? That's something I always try to assess on every collaboration and collection. What I try and do is look at all those three C's of community craftsmanship and culture and create this cultural patchwork. It's great to partner with Mulberry and do that through what the brand represents, highlighting the craftsmanship within leather goods and accessories, pulling it all together and making something work that feels fresh and interesting and touches lots of different layers within the 21st century. It explores craftsmanship in a new kind of context.

Nicholas Daley x Mulberry, Shabaka Hutchings, photograph Samuel Bradley

HM: How did this compare to previous collaborations, were there any unforeseen challenges?

ND: It has been challenging for myself and Mulberry because of production issues due to COVID, but the Mulberry team have tried everything just to see what would work, whilst also making sure we don't overload it with too many pockets (laughs). It was just quite a fluid conversation really, and we understood that not everything was achievable due to things out of ours and Mulberry’s control. I'm excited that we've taken the time though, everything feels really solid. This capsule really celebrates British culture and excellence. I’m excited to finally unleash it to the world.

In the campaign, Tomorrow's Warriors features Daisy George, Jasmine Kayser and Shirley Tettah. The horn section is made up of Grifton Forbes-Amos, Elijah Clarke and David Laleye-Thomas .



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